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How to Use Yeast for Sourdough Starter

Lately I’ve been sharing more sourdough recipes here on the blog. If you don’t have a starter because you don’t want the work of taking care of it, but you may still want to make bread from time to time though, you may be wondering — can I use yeast in place of sourdough starter in recipes?

A sourdough starter creates a delicious flavor that is combined with rising power for breads and pastries. It’s tangy or sour flavor is part of what makes it so distinct in bread and baked goods.

But, what if you see a sourdough recipe and you just really want to make it but you don’t have sourdough starter? You may be thinking can I use yeast in place of sourdough starter? And more importantly, you may want to know how to use yeast for sourdough starter in recipes.

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Can I use yeast in place of sourdough starter?

The short answer is yes. You can use a mixture of instant yeast, flour, and water that will act the same way as a sourdough starter in recipes.

The longer answer is, even though while you can do that, and it will work, you’ll miss the flavor profile of the sourdough. This may not be a big deal for some recipes, but for others, it attributes a lot or all of the flavor as the recipe was written to rely on the sourdough starter.

Recipes like brioche, buns, sandwich bread, or dinner rolls may not be as affected as recipes for sourdough bread. These other recipes like brioche or rolls will most likely include other ingredients for flavor such as butter, eggs, or milk. But with a simple sourdough bread there may not be much else besides sourdough starter, flour, and water. So keep that in mind if you do want to make a sourdough recipe without sourdough starter.

Will replacing yeast with sourdough starter taste like sourdough?

No, it won’t. Sourdough is so magical because of its distinct sour, tangy, and fermented flavor profile. Everyone’s sourdough starter is different in some way and so there are many subtle flavor profiles to sourdough which translates to the bread, finished baked good, or even recipes that use sourdough discard. So replacing it with yeast won’t yield the same sour flavor profile, but you should still get a tasty baked good or bread, it will just be more one note.

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Is sourdough starter and sourdough discard the same thing?

No, they are not. This was confusing to me at first too! Sourdough starter is a mix of water and flour that has been fermented and fed so it’s a live culture that will make baked goods rise in place of traditional yeast.

Sourdough discard is the discarded mixture of bread and water that you would usually throw away when feeding your starter. The discard does not usually have rising properties as it is being removed during the process of feeding and fermenting the sourdough culture. A lot of the time discard is removed when your sourdough starter has been in the fridge for a while. This makes it great to use in recipes that don’t require the rising properties, but it gives them a little sourdough tang and flavor!

How can I replace sourdough starter with yeast in recipes?

I am going to share how to use yeast for sourdough starter! 1 cup of sourdough starter will equal the rising power of about 1 packet of instant yeast (or about 7 grams or 2 1/4 teaspoons). To replace sourdough starter with yeast, add 113 grams organic all purpose flour, 113 grams warm water, and 7 grams organic instant yeast to a bowl. Mix it up and it’s ready to use just as sourdough starter. It's really important to weigh your flour and water here, so I'm not giving you cup measurements, find a digital food scale and up level your baking!

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Does a recipe with yeast rise the same as one with sourdough starter?

Yes and no. If you are using yeast in place of sourdough starter in a recipe that calls for sourdough starter, chances are the rise time will be less than it calls for in the recipe. That means your recipe will usually be faster to make with yeast than with sourdough starter.

Commercial yeast has been developed to rise quickly, especially instant yeast. It’s in the name, “instant”. Where sourdough starter can be more unpredictable, depending on the strength of the starter.

When baking bread you always want to look for physical sings your bread has risen and never rely on the time. Rising times can vary dramatically just from climate or environment alone, so if you’re following a recipe of someone that created it in a humid environment, but you live in a drier climate, you’ll most likely have a longer rise time than they do.

Bottom line is always make sure your bread has actually “doubled in size” or whatever the recipe calls for it to do. Don’t rely on the time frame the author provides as that is just meant to give you some idea. And if you are in more of a hurry, yeast could be the way to go as it can speed up your bread making process!

What can I use in place of sourdough discard?

If you’re making a recipe that includes sourdough discard but don’t have any, you can always use a mix of flour and water. This mix will act the same in recipes and the recipe will work, you just won’t have the tangy sourdough flavor.

To make sourdough discard for recipes, mix together 1 part water and 1 part flour, until you have what the recipe calls for. 28 grams of flour plus 28 grams of water makes 57 grams (1/4 cup) sourdough discard.

The Takeaway

The takeaway is that you can replace sourdough starter with yeast in recipes. If you don’t have a starter because you don’t want the responsibility or work, but you still want to make bread from time to time, then this is totally fine! You just won’t get the depth of flavor with this method, but you still can get some delicious homemade bread and baked goods! And, if you’re in a hurry, you can opt for recipes that use yeast or that don’t require long rise times! Try my Sourdough Irish Soda Bread for an easy and quick bread recipe!

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